Workers at Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament headquarters on the Morehead City waterfront have strong connections to the six-day competition. Most grew up in the area. Others have family involved in the event. But one worker has perhaps the strongest ties of all. Katie Rascoe, Edenton, is the daughter of a Big Rock record-setting angler.
But before you begin to wonder what boat Rascoe’s dad fished on, you need to realign your thinking. It was Rascoe’s mother, Kathy Keel, who reeled in a record-breaking catch during the 35th Big Rock competition.
In 1993, Keel caught a 759-pound blue marlin to win that year’s Big Rock. Keel’s catch remained a record for seven years until Summertime Blues set a new tournament mark with an 831-pounder. Keel’s catch remains the second largest blue marlin to win a Big Rock competition.
“I grew up in Edenton and we went to Hatteras every summer,” Rascoe said. “We mostly fished in the marlin tournaments up there, but wherever we went, people knew mom for winning the Big Rock.”
Rascoe, 19, a student at NC State majoring in Fashion Textiles Management, knew she wanted to work at the Big Rock headquarters if she got the chance. Rascoe hoped to make business connections at the Big Rock that might be a good fit with her collegiate studies. She jumped at the opportunity to join the Big Rock staff when she was offered a position.
“I knew working at the Big Rock would be a great opportunity,” she said. “It’s great the way the Big Rock gives back to the community and to charities. That has always impressed me. I wanted to work there and be a part of something special.”
The “something special” actually had its start in 1990 during the 32nd Big Rock. Keel was fishing on Temptress back then and caught her first-ever blue marlin.
Keel’s catch that year topped the Big Rock scales at 450 pounds. It was big enough to lift Temptress to a third-place finish.
Keel’s father, Tilmon Keel, was on board when his daughter caught that first marlin. He was also on board three years later when she reeled in the Big Rock record breaker.
These days, Tilmon’s heath has been failing.
“My grandfather has been sick and my mom is taking care of him,” Rascoe said. “We’ve been talking on the phone. My grandfather still talks about “the catch” and loves that mom was able to catch a big fish like that. When you look at the picture, it was a monster.
“You hear about men catching big fish but it’s pretty awesome to know that my Mom caught a 759-pounder. She is my role model and she’s been a role model to others. Mom showed me and my older sister (Lucy Mae) that there aren’t any limits to what can be done.”
When fish aren’t being weighted at the scales, Rascoe focuses on retail sales.
“It’s hectic during the tournament but it’s fun finding something that someone really wants or helping someone pick out the correct size T-shirt. When you tell the customers about how tournament proceeds go to charities, they say “Wow” and buy another T-shirt.”
Just a few feet away is a picture of Rascoe’s mom standing next to a blue marlin that won the 35th Big Rock.
“I saw the same picture up on the wall at home while growing up but to come down here and see it on the Big Rock champion’s wall opened my eyes,” Rascoe said. “Obviously, it’s a big deal … but to go somewhere where everyone has a Big Rock shirt on and see that Mom caught one of the biggest blue marlins, it’s so special. It’s great to see Big Rock excitement from a different level.”
And Keel is excited that her youngest daughter was afforded this great opportunity at Big Rock headquarters.
“I think it’s fabulous,” Keel said. “Katie has grown up knowing about the Big Rock but to be there and experience it, to see competitors bring in big fish is great. Tomorrow will be 25 years since I caught that winning fish. The tournament’s gotten a lot bigger since then and I’m glad Katie is getting a chance to see it up close.”